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Sunday, June 20, 2010
Whom will Don Fabio elect to start?

Note: Roger wrote this piece in the early hours of Sunday morning as his wife began showing signs of labor. Early reports say that Mr. Bennett found a television in the hospital and luckily witnessed his man, Shane "Smeltzy" Smeltz, score New Zealand's shot heard 'round the world.

OTB's "Deep Inside the Mind of Don Fabio" England XI

Home, 3:25 a.m. ET

My wife has just woken me up to let me know it's time to grab the bag we have had packed for months and head down to the delivery room. We still do not have a name for this baby. I have been meaning to turn my mind to that task all weekend. But, no matter how hard I try, my thoughts inevitably wander to the task of picking the England side for Wednesday's underdog action against that mighty powerhouse, the Green Dragons of Slovenia.

On Friday afternoon, Michael Davies and I recorded a podcast amid the wreckage of England's Algerian performance. My partner in pod and blog picked the team below. A 4-4-2 tweaked version of what we have already seen, the thinking being that the World Cup is not time for major change. We have long debated the mental state of Don Fabio here at OTB. I have been struck/shocked this weekend by the candor of his postmatch comments. In the face of the world's most salaciously career-ending tabloid media, the legendary Don Fabio has let us know that he is powerlessness in the face of history. The Italian was hired on a rumored $8.9 million annual salary to inject a sense of "Keep Calm and Carry On." Instead, we get:

"I think the fear of the World Cup is in the minds of the players. It's incredible. The performance on one side is good [in training], but on the other they are not the same players."

Panic has set in. He does not know what he is doing. Expect wholesale change, and scenes like this on the English bench come Wednesday.

Don Fabio is a great friend, and reader, of the pod. Here are the lads Davies and Bennett would like to see take the field in England shirts Wednesday. Let us know your choices.

I hope they have a television in the delivery room for me to sneak a look at. With Shane Smeltz's Black and White Army taking the field against Italy on Sunday afternoon, our naming decision could be made for us. Failing that, here are the games to watch Monday, which conjure the possibility of Xavi, Blaise or Georgie Welcome being tacked onto Bennett.

Portugal versus North Korea, 7:30 a.m. ET, Cape Town

The well-drilled North Koreans keep oddsmakers handicapping the over/under for defections on their toes. Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo, who will continue his one-man crusade to alienate the entire American television audience with his diving, fake injuries and ketchup talk, represents the capitalist face of the game. Will his presence distract The People's Rooney, Jong Tae-Se (hobbies: shopping; dream: to date the Wonder Girls, South Korea's equivalent to the Spice Girls). Can the industry of the North Koreans shut down the meager goal-scoring capability of the Portuguese, or will they come alive?

Chile versus Switzerland, 10 a.m. ET, Port Elizabeth

The two surprise group leaders clash. Switzerland avoided Spain's Jabulani-control challenges by adopting a bold, high-risk, yet shockingly successful decision to barely touch the ball. Chile turned heads with an offensively confident performance against Honduras. This has been the World Cup of Parity, in which teams have looked unstoppable in one game and a wreck the next. Can Chile break down Switzerland's suffocating back line, or will it be undone by a ball nudged goalward by a hurtling, cartwheeling groin?

Spain versus Honduras, 2:30 p.m ET, Johannesburg

Spain reacted to the sting of its surprise opening defeat to Switzerland, attempting to return to its happy place by reclaiming the mantle of mediocre losers (Gerard Pique: "From now on, we can leave behind the nonsense that we are favorites to win the World Cup. We have tried to exclude this from our thoughts because it is not real") and by breaking up the relationship between goalkeeper Iker Casillas and Sara Carbonero, a national newscaster who reported from behind his goal during the game. Here's her somewhat cold postmatch interview with Casillas.

Cesc Fabregas might be injected into the midfield to give it more thrust. The Spanish will need it. Honduras will seek to emulate the Swiss performance, and with the Honduras squad now containing three Palacios brothers -- Wilson, Johnny and Jerry (a fourth brother, Edwin, was tragically slain in a kidnapping in 2007) -- they will have some steel. David Suazo, known as The Panther, might return up front.